Aching Arms of Love – Br. James Koester

To describe the gospel of John as the gospel of love would not be inappropriate. From the very opening chapters of the gospel, where we read that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him[1] we hear that God’s motive, from the very beginning, was a motive of love.

That motive of love runs throughout the gospel, and reaches its climax in what we hear and see in tonight’s lesson, which comes to us from that very tender scene in the Upper Room, on that first Maundy Thursday. I give you a new commandment [Jesus says to his disciples], that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’[2]

This love, which the gospel portrays and Jesus commands, is not a sweet, sentimental, romantic love. It is a love which we know propels and compels Jesus to the cross. It is a love which is self-giving, self-offering, and self-denying.

We remind ourselves of this in our Rule of Life when we say that [faith] sees the cross of suffering and self-giving love planted in the very being of the God revealed to us in Jesus. When God made room for the existence of space and time and shaped a world filled with glory, this act of creation was one of pure self-emptying. But God broke all the limits of generosity in the incarnation of the Son for our sake, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”[3]

As disciples of Jesus we are called to model that love: a love with gives all for the sake of others. One of my favourite hymns, Isaac Watts’ When I survey the Wondrous Cross puts it this way: Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.[4]

The call to love as Jesus loves is a call to self-giving, self-offering, self-denying love which, sooner or later, will place us on the cross.

For many of us, these days of physical distancing and isolation are just such a cross. We are being compelled by our love for another to keep our distance; to keep apart; to stay away. For some I know, that is breaking their hearts. It seems like a heartless act, and yet for their sake, and ours, and for the sake of others whom we may not encounter, it is so necessary, in order to keep us all safe. In a curious reversal, it is a sign of our great love for them.

Someone I know told me the other day that her arms were aching to hug her grown children, whom for now, she can only see on Zoom. I think she would be surprised to hear me compare her love for her children, to Jesus’ love for us. Yet just as Jesus poured out his life in love for us, so we must now pour out our self-denying love for others, and our arms ache because of it.

That night so long ago when Jesus gathered his disciples in the Upper Room for that first Maundy Thursday, and commanded them to love one another as he had loved them, is in reality, not so long ago. Every time we love as Jesus loves, in acts of self-giving, self-offering, and self-denying love, our arms ache, and once more we hear him say to us love one another as I have loved you.

It is not easy to right now to love as Jesus does, because when we do our arms ache with longing to embrace those whom we love the most, and in so doing we fulfil Jesus’ command to love.

Homily preached by Brother James Koester at Evening Prayer at Evening Prayer on Saturday, 2 May 2020, the Feast of St. John, the Beloved Disciple

Proverbs 8: 22 – 31; John 13: 20 – 35

[1] John 3: 16, 17

[2] John 13: 34, 35

[3] SSJE, Rule of Life, The Spirit of Poverty, chapter 6, page

[4] Hymnal 1982, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, hymn 474

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  1. Dianne wood on May 6, 2020 at 03:58

    I love your messages – they are spoken with LOVE not condemnation!!
    Thank you and may God bless and keep all of you in His loving care!


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